Back On The Torture Rack


Saturday, February 4th, 2006. Strong And Shapely Gym, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Back Day with my training partner, Kostas “The Greek Statue” Marangopoulos. This was the best workout of the year so far. No surprise. Great gym. Great training partner. Can’t lose with that combo. Just a few months ago I had the chance to train at The Mecca Of Bodybuilding, Gold’s Gym, Venice California. This place… Strong And Shapely Gym, is The Bodybuilding Mecca Of The East Coast. In fact, If I were forced to choose between the two, I would have to go with Strong and Shapely Gym… this place ROCKS! Read on to find out why, and to find out what is…. “the torture rack.”


A1 Wide grip pull-ups (pronated / palms forward grip)
3 light warm up sets on pulldown machine
1 set X 25 lbs X 12 reps
1 set X 25 lbs X 10 reps + 2 forced reps, assist from training partner
1 set X 25 lbs X 8 reps + 3 forced reps, assist from training partner
B1 Pullover Machine (“THE TORTURE RACK”)
1 set X 110 lbs X 12 reps

1 set X 130 lbs X 8 reps + 2 forced reps, with slow (6 sec) negatives
1 set X 140 lbs X 6 reps + 2 forced reps, with slow (6 sec) negatives
C1 Hammer Strength Isolateral Selectorized High Row
1 set X 70, 80, 90 lbs X 6, 6, 6 reps (ascending set technique)
1 set X 70 lbs X 10 reps X alternating unilateral hold method
1 set X 100lbs X 6 reps, drop to 70 lbs X 10 reps
D1 Short Arm Custom-built Lever Row Machine
3 sets X 115 lbs X 13, 12, 12 reps
E1 Reverse Hyperextension Machine
3 sets X bodyweight X 12 reps


A1 Seated Calf Machine
Set 1: 100 lbs X 22 reps
Set 2: 115 lbs X 20 reps
Set 3: 125 lbs X 20 reps
Set 4: 125 lbs X 17 reps, drop to 100 lbs X 10 more reps
B1 45 degree Angled Calf Machine
3 sets X 130 lbs X 20 reps

Workout Commentary

Strong and Shapely Gym is the best place in the world for a bodybuilder to train back because the owner, Bob Bonham has about 40 different back machines to choose from! That’s not a typo – I did not mean “four” – I said “forty”! Always worth the short 15 or 20 minute drive out there.

My low back is feeling much stronger today (it was bothering me a bit over the last month or so). No deadlifts or t-bar rows or bent over barbell rows today. But soon!

Even though I chose exercises to keep low back stress minimal, Kostas and I BLASTED out lats and upper backs into complete submission today. This was no doubt the best workout of the year so far. It wasn’t that we lifted more weight (although the strength is increasing), it was more a matter of physical and mental intensity – the type that breaks down fiber and makes it grow – a pure hypertrophy type of training.

We started out on wide grip pull-ups. I’m now starting to get away from bodyweight only and beginning to strap weight around my waist. Just 25 lbs today and hit 12 good reps on the first set. I will move up quickly in poundage on these no doubt.

Pull ups are a popular bodyweight exercise, and one of the best, but once you master your bodyweight on these, then you start strapping weight around your waist if you really want to get a good growth effect. With all due respect and admiration to the excellent physiques of gymnasts, you won’t get much bigger than a gymnast if you only use your body weight. That’s why bodyweight exercise is excellent for people who like to train at home and who admire the “men’s fitness” look, but if you’re a hardcore bodybuilder, Slap those plates on! (unless you already weigh 250 or 275… lean… then you’re excused from weighted pull-ups…. Then again, even Nasser El Sonbaty does partial weighted pullups!)

The second exercise was the infamous…. “TORTURE RACK”… aka the pullover machine. This thing is as classic as a 65 mustang – it must be 20 years old and no one has ever made a better model. The old Nautilus pullover was pretty decent, and there are still a few of those floating around, but not as good as this one. You cannot buy this machine new out of any fitness catalog. You will not find this in Ballys Total Fitness or 24 Hour fitness. It is one of a kind and has even had custom alterations like an Olympic plate horn added. Even the strap that holds you down – it is a GM car seat belt, LOL! (Kostas and I we’re cracking up when we noticed that!)


I have written about this “evil” device in previous blogs, but there are simply no words to describe this monstrosity. You have to come out to New Jersey and get on this thing yourself to FEEEEEL and experience it. I’m sure there are only a handful of gyms in the country that still have something similar.

Did you ever watch the Dorian Yates video, “Blood And Guts?” If you haven’t, then what the heck are you doing on this blog???? Are you kidding me? This is a serious bodybuilding blog! No serious self respecting hard core bodybuilder should ever be allowed into a gym without having watched this video multiple times and passing the written and practical exam afterwards (that last part was a joke by the way)…

I was never the biggest fan of Dorian’s physique, always preferring the Lee Labrada symmetrical look, but after you’ve seen Dorian train, you just have to take your hat off and salute Yates regardless of what you think of him or his physique.

Well, anyway, in this video, Dorian, the multi-Mr. Olympia and first of the new breed of Mass Monsters from the 1990’s, was filmed in his dungeon-basement “Temple Gym” in England and it is some of the most raw, hardcore, brutally intense, vein-bursting, muscle-popping training footage you will ever see. This isn’t a spray-on fake sweat photo shoot video… this is real and LIVE Mr. Olympia training.

And what machine, pray tell, does Mr. Dorian use in the video – yup, you guessed it – the old school pullover machine. In Dorian’s writings, he always mentioned what a great machine this is. His other favorite was reverse grip barbell rows. And take one look at his lats, folks. Stupid Huge!

The range of motion is incredible. Every rep seems like it lasts for minutes. And the stretch? Fuggetaboudit… it feels like your lats are going to rip off the bone. Yes, that’s why we call it the torture rack, and every day after a session on the rack, our lats are sore to the bone… but we love it and come back to it every time because it makes us grow. I will never have a back like Dorian – for a variety of reasons – but genetics and enhancements taken into due consideration – I don’t think it hurts to pay close attention those with the best body part development and study and mirror what they do (or did) to get it.

Three sets on “the rack,” including a couple sets with the final reps done as forced reps and slow negatives. The lats will be bigger tomorrow. (YES, tomorrow!)

Next… The hammer strength high pulldown machine. Bob Bonham, Strong and Shapely owner, has recently removed the old plate loaded machine and replaced it with the selectorized (weight stack) machine. At first I was bitching to Kostas about it. “Damn! See what happens when Life Fitness buys out Hammer Strength?” But after a few sets, no complaints. It feels almost the same… and no racking and unracking all those plates is a plus.

We used a different technique on all three sets: ascending set, alternating reps with holds in the contracted position, and a drop set, respectively. No need to do the boring old three sets of ten routine. Your muscles are expecting that. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Shock them. Mix it up and grow.

Finally the last exercise: Short lever arm lever rows. Another Strong And Shapely exclusive. A custom made lever row machine with a very short lever arm. You won’t find this in any other gym. The improved leverage factor allows you to lift more weight, and it’s a totally different feel. Hits the upper back right between the shoulder blades and across the upper back like an arrow in the bull’s-eye.

If you’ve been counting, this was 12 sets total for back. If you’re wondering if this is overtraining, the answer is YES – for a beginner or for someone who reads Men’s fitness magazine for the Bosu ball and bodyweight routines and has never stepped on a bodybuilding stage before! For an advanced competitive bodybuilder with average or better genetics and recovery ability, using a body part split routine with only one major and one minor muscle group in a session is NOT overtraining! In fact, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

This is PURE bodybuilding training – If you want to be a bodybuilder, then this is how it’s done! Gotta get enough Volume and Variety (V & V) to HYPERTROPHY every inch of muscle fiber in the back, top to bottom, left to right. Don’t miss an inch. Hit every angle. Don’t leave any “holes.”

OK, we finished with a few sets of reverse hyperextensions. This one is a must to help rehab and strengthen the low back. I’m doing a lot of other “rehab” work including stretching and some bodyweight exercises daily, but I hit this machine at every opportunity. Not many gyms have it. When I don’t have access to this equipment I do reverse hypers off a swiss ball on top of a bench.

We’re on a split routine now with one major muscle group and one minor muscle and today the latter was calves. We finished off the session with two calf exercises – seated calf first, for four sets, then the 45 degree angled calf raise machine. The calves were burning!


Strong and shapely gym not only has 40 back machines, they are so well equipped that they have FOUR different types of seated calf machines! (have you ever heard such a thing – not TOTAL calf machines – SEATED calf machines!) Each one hits your calves from a slightly different angle. The one we used today has you in a position where your knees are at a degree of flexion slightly greater than ninety degrees, which makes it a little more difficult as you are at a greater mechanical disadvantage but that forces the soleus muscle to work even harder. (Only a REAL bodybuilder could appreciate this… hitting your soleus muscle from a slightly “different” angle).

That was a wrap. Off we went for our post workout drinks… simple carbs and whey protein… A BIG GIANT chicken and potatoes and veggies meal shortly after that… And then a good nap. I feel a growth surge coming on…

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Comments on Back On The Torture Rack Leave a Comment

February 5, 2006

Steven @ 2:46 pm #

Hi Tom,
I saw “Blood and Guts” and I must say that Dorain Yates was one masochistic dude. Every set was taken to the point that additional reps were humanly impossible. I tried HIT type of training but focus is such a hard obstacle to overcome especially when you don’t have a training partner with a very annoying British accent yelling at you like Dorian had! I also have to settle for my mediocre local (yawn) YMCA. Oh well Great Blog

Tom venuto @ 2:52 pm #

Dorian’s heavy-accented monstrous training partner was one of the best parts of the video, don’t you think? “COME ON DIESEL… PUUUUUSSSSHH IT!”

John Bartlett @ 3:55 pm #

WOW! It’s my day off from the gym (SuperBowl Sunday) but, after reading your blog today, I feel like blowing off the SuperBowl in exchange for a sick back workout.
Very inspirational entry today.

Steven @ 7:52 pm #

Dorian’s training partner was a very motivating guy. It was like he could Dorian’s mind and always know when he had that extra rep left in him. The only thing though was that both he and Dorian just look plain fat in the offseason. It must take a year or so to diet off all that to look like Dorian did when it was Olympia time. Didn’t he retire early because of a tricep tear from “constantly” enploying that kind of training show on the dvd. I guess that is an example of why workouts should vary and not stay with on rep scheme.

February 6, 2006

Konstantin @ 1:24 pm #

Hi tom ! great blog !!! Every time you post I get SOOO psyched for my next workout. However I do have a question ( and pardon my ignorance if this has been answered before ) your routine although very intense seems to focus on the latissimus dorsi … do you find you get a good lower back progression with this workout also ? or are you simply trying to pound your lats into submission and perform a different routine down the line ? Would it be wrong to through in some dead lifts ?
Thanks for the great posts and inspiration !!!

Jessica Britt @ 11:12 pm #

Tom this is no doubt one of your best blogs yet! I LOVED it! I definitely need the motivation and inspiration. Great workout, hands down and one of the best blogs yet! Thank you so much. keep it up.

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